A cursory overview of Australia's position in the regional and global arenas indicates we are a developing country with an economy still largely driven by the export of minerals and agricultural products.
The global economy, on the other hand, is experiencing a major revolution and transforming from an industrial economy to one based on knowledge -- ICT. The main characteristics of this information and knowledge revolution are globalisation, with a high level of information, infrastructure, and convergence.
Although Australia has a reasonable infrastructure in place for creating high-tech companies and growing them to a reasonable size, very few of them have become large multinational companies with their headquarters still in Australia. One of the reasons is that many of them are purchased by foreign buyers at an early stage.
While there are no statistics on the rate at which Australian ICT companies are being taken over relative to US and European companies, there is a perception that Aussie companies are being put up for sale at an earlier stage of their corporate development than is the case with their overseas counterparts.
One of the reasons for this might be in the way Australian companies are launched in the first place. It is well-known that the amount of venture capital going into the launching of companies in Australia is pretty low. That also raises the question of whether the growth of Australian ICT vendors is limited by the amount of venture capital they attract.
While we can be proud of our R&D skills and achievements in nearly every field of technology, more attention must be paid to ways and means of commercialising more of the resultant technology in Australia.
The impact of technology and innovation on the Australian economy is not well understood. It is a growing force that our political leaders need to understand more clearly if we are going to help IT grow and prosper in a highly competitive global economy. Government and industry must collaborate to strengthen Australia's science and technology culture. We must develop commercialisation skills. We must also stem the downward trend in enrolment in advanced technology studies.
I have often said that we need a vision to move forward and that implies we need a group of influential men and women who can take a longer term view of Australia's prospects. Governments change, portfolios change, and the minds of our politicians concentrate only on electoral battles. The political process does not provide technology visionaries with the zeal our country needs in order for us to emerge as one of the front-ranking countries in this game of ICT development and prosperity.
Over the past decade ICT -- as well as other cutting-edge technologies including bio, nano, and genetic engineering -- has created a broad range of economic and social activities. During this period many developing countries have maintained economic growth through the utilisation of knowledge-based technologies.
Our politicians are mainly technology-naive and not plugged in. We need a call to arms to highlight the challenges and opportunities presented by IT. We must ensure that Australia is well positioned to offer products and services that a global market will value. And all this requires close collaboration between government and industry at all levels.
Len Rust is publisher of